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Inflated Research Claims Can Harm Children

Do you think family engagement in education is a pointless national goal? According to the latest research, we can throw away the wisdom of the past several decades and relax. Our kids will do fine if parents “set the stage and then leave it” to schools. Read More

The real world isn't always pretty

"The goal for any kind of parental involvement must be to improve learning, not test scores. When parents help facilitate learning, children thrive in school. When they try to improve children’s test scores, the results are less optimal. "

This is the core message. However, what's happening in the real world is not always that.

Parents (especially some well-to-do) are doing way too much for their children to assure top grades and ivy league placement. Some parents even do their children's homework whether it be essay reports, powerpoint presentations, lab experiments, etc.. They buy the best materials for their children's school projects as a status symbol.

Some teens who later arrive at college with stellar transcripts then fail in higher education. These students never learned time management nor their own self-study skills. Why should they? They were carried by parents and some even spoon-fed by teachers to get top grades. These students may feel others owe them the same. Some of the parents of these students then make appointments with the university professors once their children are struggling to complain about low test scores and grades - demanding that "We pay your salary. You owe us A's"

The bad apples may be more common that you'd like to believe. They are likely skewing the reports. Tell them to get out of their children's hair and teach their children honesty and self-sufficiency.

Totally agree with you!

I totally agree with your comment here. Many parents are doing way too much to insure their kids success. We need to do a better job to re-educate those parents to the harm they are doing.

But this issue is NOT the main point of article! Are you suggesting we throw out decades of wisdom on how parents "should" partner with schools because of one factor that needs repair? Isn't this like throwing the baby out with the bath water?

We can't just put a bandaid on the complex problem

It's logical that parents who are caring and encourage learning in their children will be more likely to grow children who are respectful and honest and productive members of society.

However, in a culture that relishes on instant gratification and besting the Joneses, with adults (many of those parents too!) who drink energy drinks for stamina and smoke e-cigs for the nicotine rush (and driving cars while texting) are not going to be ideal role models for students.

Unfortunately, our current consumer-driven society which lives off of this high energy stimulation won't easily be talked into stepping back and differentiating between teaching their children the true value of learning rather than the superficial value of high grades.

It's not students who drive themselves to doctor's offices in droves (especially wealthy communities) to get diagnoses of ADHD and prescriptions for legal speed to keep the momentum going. Some parents are encouraging this. Also, while these families are at the doctors, their kids are also sadly receiving increasing numbers of anti-anxiety prescriptions (a result of poor parenting, school stress, and a society going downhill fast, perhaps?)

Parental involement is excellent.

I've seen schools refusing to grade homework because the parents are doing it. And even in this highly competitive high school the parents are complaining because if there is no graded homework they have to fight non-stop with their kids to get them to do any homework and as a result their kids are failing the state's algebra test. (They pass the algebra in school. They just don't remember algebra long term.) It's sad that because some parents are over involved there is a trend to say that parental involvement and homework is bad.

There are ways to make parental involvement with homework positive. Parents can be taught to ask questions that make students learn, like,"How do you actually write an algebra problem that I could try to solve?.

As far as testing, the trend is for most of the 50 questions asked to be pretty easy and then about 6 of them can only be answered by the warrior kids that like trick questions. As a result, most kids get close to the same score, regardless of knowledge. So, how anybody can get an actual statistical correlation from state testing is beyond my understanding. 4 points one way or another is not that big of a deal on state tests. Most state tests that I've looked at are far trickier than the ACT. And the ACT does not have real meaning. I know parents that have worked with their kids so much that they realize that they have a child who doesn't like abstract thinking and that trade school is where their child belongs. As a result, their child does not take the ACT.

Robinson and Harris’ study

Researchers making extreme claims in pursuit of notoriety? I'm shocked!
"80% of everything is crap."
Theodore Sturgeon, the late science fiction writer

Where is the original research??

Robinson and Harris' conclusions are based almost entirely on negative results. In other words, they tried to find a positive effect to parental involvement, and found none. Negative results aren't necessarily bad, but to be valid, it would need to be demonstrated that the study actually had sufficient statistical power to detect positive results. Otherwise, it's like searching for gold using a metal detector with dead batteries--if you find no gold, does that mean there wasn't any there?

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that they've published their findings in a peer-reviewed academic journal, and it's doubtful that their book would include sufficient details on this. This is suspicious, and bears the hallmarks of politically-driven research.

Important Question

Thanks for pointing this out. I did a thorough search through a large university database in preparation for writing this article. I also could not find the research published in a peer-reviewed journal. Yes, suspicious.

The research is right here.

Not to be rude but it took me less than 5 seconds to find the published paper just based on the authors' names.

Here it is (the full-length article is freely available):

It's a meta-analysis of published results rather than a prospective study so the question of statistical power to determine superiority vs. non-inferiority will vary based on the individual studies analyzed, but the statistical power of those studies does seem robust.

Certainly the headline of the NY Times article is attention-grabbing by design - if you read the text of the published study their conclusions are more nuanced than one would believe from the NY Times article.

In terms of analyzable metrics though, I don't think anyone is claiming that test scores are the end-all-be-all of human achievement, but they do at least provide a standardized measure by which student performance may be assessed. If we say that children are all unique flowers or need to be assessed on an in-depth individual basis and that anything else is invalid then we may lose important clues that a big-data style analysis can help point to.


It's never rude to point out where the research is located and it would have been really helpful to have links to it in The Atlantic or the New York Times articles. Neither author had links to this in bios on their academic websites, nor did scholarly search engines pick up a published peer-reviewed article. I'm glad to know that it has "been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal" and to see the funding sources behind the research. Unfortunately, the claims made in the two articles discussed here are truly overstated and over-simplified. Perhaps now that we know where to read about the research, we can glean the nuanced conclusions that are meaningful, and also contribute to our understanding of parent engagement in education.

Did they control for bad parents?

Silly question because I know they didn't. Parents who are uneducated or just plain dumb probably wont help their kids any by trying to help. There are also those parents that do the kids work for them which really isn't going to help either.

I have never seen a person who had a parent that pushed education and still ended up at the bottom.

Could someone please define

Could someone please define the limits of PARENTAL INVOVLEMENT as it pertains to Education?

For the layman, Where does parental involvement as a measureable metric in education start and when does it end?

For example does my involvement start when I get them up in the morning to go to school and end when I put them on the bus, only to begin again when the get home and end when they are done with their homework?

Until such time as the boundaries of parental involvement are identified as a measureable bright line, there is no way anyone can say either way that there is or is not enough parental involvement.

All claims for of or against parental involvement are based on anecdotal evidence.

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Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and researcher in the field of positive youth development and youth civic engagement.


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